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Job satisfaction high in photonics but fair pay an issue, SPIE research finds

Differences of opinion still exist when it comes to fair pay and promotion in optics and photonics fields, but job satisfaction remains high overall, according to the 2017 SPIE Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report. 

The report, the seventh compiled annually by SPIE, is the largest international study of the photonics industry.

The largest difference of opinion in the survey concerns employee views on fairness of pay and promotion. The report shows that 71 per cent of women feel they are paid fairly, versus 79 per cent of men. With a few exceptions, the report shows that women still earn less than men overall. 

The largest wage differences between men and women are associated with North American and higher-income Asian countries, employment at not-for-profit organisations, and employment of 26-30 years.

However, women and men reported similar levels of job satisfaction in most categories: 96 per cent enjoy their work, 95 per cent find their work meaningful, and 93 per cent feel that their work is respected by their peers.

Nearly equal percentages of women (82 per cent) and men (83 per cent) would recommend their jobs to a child or a friend.

‘A solid grounding in optics and photonics has provided many of us opportunities to rewarding careers. This will continue to be the case in this century of the photon as the impact of our technologies on quality and quantity of life continues its inexorable progress,’ said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.

Arthurs also pointed to political changes that could affect the movement of skilled workers, and the importance for countries to invest in innovation infrastructure.

‘To maximise the rewards from intellectual stimulation that are so important to many of us, and to be well rewarded financially, we must be open to change, perhaps to the challenges and social disruption of migration. Human talent is globally dispersed, but the distribution of brains does not correlate with the geographic disparity in salaries,’ Arthurs noted. He referenced a table in the report showing pay by country, with median salaries ranging from $117,000 in the United States to less than $3,000 in Ukraine.

‘As invention and entrepreneurship proliferate in our field, salary differentials may diminish, but in this regard as in much else, hope is not a strategy,’ Arthurs said. ‘Learning from the success of Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore in investing in the complete innovation infrastructure from education to global product revenues is a better approach for countries without legacy technology-based economies. And unless the established leading economies pay attention to the investment in education and research, future versions of this salary survey will have ranking changes.’

North America and Oceania stand out as the regions with the highest salaries, with median earnings well above other areas. North American median incomes are 86 per cent greater than higher-income Asian countries and more than double higher-income European countries.

The report also highlighted:

•         Entry-level pay for PhDs is highest in Switzerland, with a median salary of $81,970.

•         32 per cent of workers in higher-income Asian countries work 50 or more hours per week.

•         21 per cent of Ukrainian workers report working 55 or more hours per week, the largest percentage of any country.

•         Start-ups account for just over 15 per cent of workers at for-profit organisations. Workers earn median salaries of $70,000, versus $95,473 for those at traditional companies.

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